Last week I met with the Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Schools James McInnes in Spreyton. We discussed the re-opening of schools in September, the complexities of providing school transport and how coming out of lockdown has seen more children going into care. While Councillor McInnes welcomed the extra funding the Government has provided to upper-tier councils for Children’s Services over the past few months, he stressed that more would still be needed. I have since written to the Chancellor urging him to ensure that funding for Children’s Services reflects the increase in demand and that the Government covers the increased costs faced by our schools as they implement the necessary Covid-19 health and safety measures. Early signs of extra funding have been promising with the PM announcing £1 billion of catch-up support and £40 million for dedicated school and college transport but more will need to follow.
The Government has launched a #backtoschoolsafely campaign to help allay fears that parents may have about their children returning to school in September. The best available evidence indicates that the impact on the mental and physical health of our children increases the longer they are away from school so I hope parents in our Central Devon constituency (where infection rates remain low) do ensure their children return to school in September. The Government has a detailed plan for education settings that includes grouping pupils into bubbles, staggering drop-off times, regular handwashing and providing schools and colleges with home testing kits. I know headteachers and teachers will have spent much of their summer break putting these measures in place and I am very grateful for their hard work. Parents may wish to visit www.gov.uk/backtoschool for information and practical guidance.
Over the past fortnight I have followed the GCSE and A-Level results situation closely – I am eager to ensure that pupils at the three secondary schools in Central Devon (Okehampton College, QE in Crediton and South Dartmoor College in Ashburton) receive fair grades. While I understood the Government’s aim of wanting to avoid the grade inflation that would result if teachers’ predicted grades were accepted in full, it soon became clear that the algorithm for levelling out predicted grades was not fit for purpose. The Government was therefore right to abandon the algorithm and instead go with predicted grades. It does mean this year will be a bumper year for high grades but it is worth it to minimise disruption for otherwise affected pupils and avoid a huge number of appeals. One very positive point, which has received little attention, is that a record number of 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds across England have secured a university place (up 7% on last year). As the first member of my family to go to university I know how further education can transform lives and this increase is another important step towards real equality of opportunity.
For more from Mel follow him on twitter @MelJStride or visit www.melstridemp.com.